Thousands of hopeful holidaymakers have rushed to book trips abroad as foreign breaks were given the green light with quarantine measures set to be dropped for some destinations.
Ministers confirmed the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days upon returning to the UK will be scrapped for a slew of popular destinations – meaning trips to France, Greece and Spain look like they could be an option.
In place of the quarantine arrangements, there will be a traffic light system, with officials placing countries into green, amber and red categories based on the prevalence of coronavirus within each nation’s borders.
The news, which is expected to be announced in more detail next week, saw the Eurotunnel website struggle with the surge in demand, and a spokesman confirmed they had more bookings in one day than they have had all year.
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle tweeted to say they had drafted in extra people to answer the “very busy” phone lines, and that online bookings had encountered problems because “too many users are trying to make a booking”.
The spokesman told PA they had thousands of people booking trips and the website was slowed down due to the “sheer quantity of people all trying to book at the same time”.
Weâre sorry that online bookings arenât working properly today. It seams that too many users are trying to make a booking.Weâre working hard to get the website working again ASAP. Apologies for the inconvenience.— Eurotunnel Le Shuttle (@LeShuttle) June 27, 2020
The list of quarantine-free countries is due to be published on Wednesday, with restrictions lifted as soon as July 6.
The Foreign Office is also set to lift its caution against all but essential travel for those countries in the green and amber categories to coincide with the announcement, thereby reducing travel insurance premiums.
Travel firm Tui said it had seen a 50% spike in bookings this week compared to the previous one, with holidays to Spain and Greece proving popular.
Managing director Andrew Flintham said: “We’re pleased the Government has finally confirmed that holidays overseas will be able to go ahead, and the full list of green and amber destinations will be released on Wednesday.
“It’s a hugely positive step forward for the travel industry and I know our customers will be ecstatic that their summer is saved.”
Only passengers arriving into the UK from nations in the red category, where the spread of coronavirus is deemed to be high, will be told to self-isolate for two weeks, under the fresh proposals.
Despite being touted by the Government as a country which could benefit from the new arrangements in little over a week’s time, Greek tourism minister Haris Theoharis indicated it could be up to three weeks before his country was happy to open up unrestricted travel with the UK.
Ministers have warned countries could fall into the unsafe category if there are sudden outbreaks, meaning holidaymakers could return to find they unexpectedly have to lock themselves away for 14 days.
A Government spokeswoman said: “Our new risk-assessment system will enable us to carefully open a number of safe travel routes around the world – giving people the opportunity for a summer holiday abroad and boosting the UK economy through tourism and business.
“But we will not hesitate to put on the brakes if any risks re-emerge, and this system will enable us to take swift action to reintroduce self-isolation measures if new outbreaks occur overseas.”
The quarantine measures have come in for heavy criticism since they were brought in on June 8, requiring all passengers – bar a handful of exemptions – to self-isolate for a fortnight at a declared address when they arrive in the UK.
Those who fail to comply can be fined £1,000 in England, and police are allowed to use “reasonable force” to make sure they follow the rules.
The International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) branded the blanket quarantine measures “illogical” and budget airline Ryanair labelled them “idiotic rubbish”.
Jonathan Smith, a spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta), said the organisation welcomed the “risk-based approach” taken by the Government, but told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while the industry expected “a surge in bookings” more travel companies were likely to go bust before a full recovery was felt.
In related news:
– The easing of post-travel rules will come with tighter measures for mask-wearing, with face coverings to be made mandatory by law on planes and ferries, the Government has confirmed.
– The Prime Minister, according to a Telegraph report, will give a speech in the north of England on Tuesday unveiling his plan to fast-track the UK’s recovery through transport investment after the coronavirus economic downturn.
– Midwives and doctors are being urged to lower their threshold for admitting pregnant women from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds into hospital after research showed they are at higher risk from Covid-19.
– Universities will receive further Government financial support to cover up to 80% of income losses experienced as a result of the drop in overseas students numbers during the coronavirus crisis, with ministers also ploughing in £280 million to guard key UK scientific research.
It comes as lockdown breaches were witnessed across the country on Friday evening.
Police have been granted more power to disperse crowds in Liverpool after part of the Liver Building caught on fire amid wild celebrations over the city’s Premier League triumph.
The city’s mayor Joe Anderson tweeted saying he condemned “those that brought a negative focus on Liverpool Football Club and our city”.
In London, the Telegraph reported that the Metropolitan Police confirmed officers attended an “unlicensed music event” in the Kensal Town area of west London after complaints from residents.